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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Social activists urge officials to care for marginalised citizens in COVID 19 fight

STRANDED IN PETTAH – Police and volunteers provided food, shelter and fresh clothing to around a hundred people stranded at the Pettah bus stand/supplied

ECONOMYNEXT – Sex-workers,  the homeless and migrant workers without a fixed abode are increasingly at risk of contracting COVID 19 and are falling through the cracks in the Sri Lankan system, social workers and Health Workers warned.

Spokesmen for two organisations working with sex-workers in Colombo and other districts told EconomyNext on condition of anonymity that at least two women in the trade, one from Colombo central and another from the Puttalam district, have been taken to hospital with signs of the disease and are under observation.

“Tracing their contacts will be very important if they are infected,” these grassroots workers observed.

The entire area, normally the busiest region in the country, is in lockdown with Police, the Army and the Navy deployed to prevent movement in or out of the zone.

Between 30 to a hundred people in the Keselwatte, Gunasinghepura and surrounding areas in Colombo central had been taken in by Public Health Inspectors and Police.

Around 40 of them from these areas had been taken by the Sri Lanka Navy to quarantine centres. They were in the buses that met with an accident at Warakapola recently and 29 of them were admitted to the local hospital with injuries sustained in the collision.

Army spokesman Colonel Vijitha Hettiarachchi told EconomyNext that since then they have been transported to the Punani quarantine centre.

Six of them are from the Ja-ela Suduwella area. They are men who travel on the intercity buses selling bottles of water and had become stranded in the Pettah area when the curfew was clamped down.

They are reportedly a group that had shared a cigarette along with the sex-worker and her male partner, local social workers said.

Social activists are calling on the government to reach out to these marginalized communities in order to make the fight against COVID 19 successful.

Paba Deshapriya of the Grassrooted Trust is urging officials to reach out to these communities who do not have proper addresses and even in some cases National Identity Cards to persuade them to come forward if they have symptoms of COVID 19 or think they have been exposed to the disease.

“We learned from the AIDS epidemic that attaching stigma to people prevents them from coming forward and being diagnosed allowing the spread of the disease,” she points out.

She told EconomyNext that officials must also let go of their baggage or preconceived notions of these people and include them in the programs.

“It is not that they are not in the records of the Health Department, they are well known,” Deshapriya said.

“Because of other health issues the sex-workers, men who have sex with men and the beach boys have been identified and there are records with the department. They at risk here in this epidemic as well,” she said. (Colombo, April 17, 2020)



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Sri Lankans may need to wait for Monetary Board meeting minutes despite new Act

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans may have to wait more time to read the meeting minutes of the Central Bank’s Monetary Board, a top official said, despite a new act that has made the central bank to be more transparent and accountable for its decisions.

Many central banks including the United States’ Federal Reserve, India’s Reserve Bank, and Bank of Mexico release the minutes of their monetary policy meeting to ensure transparency.

The new Central Bank Act passed by the Parliament in line with the guidance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes measures for Sri Lanka’s central bank to be more transparent and accountable.

These measures include releasing the Monetary Policy Report every six months and the first such report was released on February 15.

However, the central bank has not taken a decision to release the minutes of the Monetary Board meetings on the monetary policy.

“Going forward, one day this could happen,” Chandranath Amarasekara, Assistant Governor at the Central Bank told reporters on Wednesday (21) at a media briefing.

“Right now, we have just started working on the new Central Bank Act. We are not there yet. There is no such decision on releasing minutes yet.”

The central bank in the past printed billions of rupees to keep the market interest rates artificially low and provide cheap funding for successive governments to propel a debt-driven economy.

It’s decision, however, led Sri Lanka into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with sovereign debt default.

It also propped up the rupee currency artificially in the past to maintain a stable exchange rate at the expense of billions of US dollars. The move also contributed for the economic crisis and later the central bank was forced to allow over 60 percent depreciation in the rupee in March 2022.

However, none of the top central bank officials was held responsible for wrong decisions to hold interest rates artificially low with money printing and propping up the rupee. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Amid mass migration, Sri Lanka to recruit volunteers as English teachers

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is planning to appoint foreign and expatriate volunteers to teach English for Sri Lanka students, the Ministry of Higher Education said, amid thousand of teachers migrating to other countries after the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Over five thousand teachers have left the country with the Education Ministry permission using the government’s circular of temporarily leaving state jobs while tens of thousands of teachers have left the country without informing the relevant authorities, Education Ministry officials say.

That had led to an acute teacher shortage in the country.

Suren Raghavan, the State Minister for Higher Education said the shortage has aggravated because most of the graduates who have an English degree become writers and join the private sector due to higher salary.

“They do not join government schools. This is a problem all over the country which is why we need to have an online system,” Raghavan told EconomyNext.

Separately he said on Thursday at a press conference that he had spoken to Canadian and Australian High Commissions to get the assistance of where their English teachers who have experience in teaching English as a second language in South Asia.

He also said that there is a number of teachers in the Unite Kingdom have shown interest in teaching English and they have experience in teaching in other Asian countries such as Burma and India while the teaching would be done free of charge.

The new move also comes at a time when the country’s English literacy rate is on the decline, according to the Minister.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe announced the English-for-all initiative three months ago with plans to improve English literacy at school and university level. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka tea production up 1.4-pct in Jan 2024, exports up 6.8-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production was up 1.4 percent to 18.73 million kilograms in January 2024, with high growns falling and low and mid growns rising, industry data shows.

High grown tea in January 2024 was 3.56 million kilograms, down from 3.36 million, medium growns were 2.6, up from 2.5 million kilograms and low growns were 12.56 million, up from 12.32 million kilograms last year.

Exports, including re-exports were up 6.88 percent to 18.76 million kilograms, industry data published by Ceylon Tea Brokers show.

Export earnings were reported at 102 million US dollars, up from 99.5 million dollars last year. The average FOB price was 5.45 US dollars a kilo down from 5.67 dollars last year.

Tea in bulk was 8.5 million kilograms valued at 12.79 billion rupees, tea in packets was 7.8 million kilograms valued at 13.1 billion rupees and tea in bags was 1.8 million kilos, valued at 5.06 billion rupees.

The top buyer was Iraq with 2.5 million kilos, up from 2.1 million last year followed by the UAE with 1.99 kilos, up from 1.86 million last year.

Russia bought 1.98 million kilos, down from 2.0 last year, Turkey bought 1.72 million kilos, from 2.3 million last year, while Iran bought 1.32 million, up from 614 million last year. (Colombo/Feb23/2024)

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